Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton: Rolling Without The Stones
There’s an endless number of unsung female voices out there still skirting with obscurity, this despite having delivered some of the most iconic vocal performances in pop music history.
Few people know the name Clare H. Torry, for example, but there isn’t a Pink Floyd fan alive who hasn’t imagined himself inspiring her climatic vocal on “The Great Gig in The Sky.” Ellen Foley may have stirred thousands of teen lovers to do the backseat boogie, but it’s Meatloaf who gets all the credit for “Paradise By The Dashboard Light.” And despite passionately pleading with a war-torn generation that “rape and murder” were just a shot away, Merry Clayton is rarely remembered for helping Mick Jagger find safe shelter from that threatening storm.
Lisa Fischer, on the other hand, is a name you should know, and if you don’t, she’s doing everything she can to make sure you do. Stones fans, of course, know Lisa as an integral part of the band’s live show for the past three decades, tasked with delivering the powerhouse “Gimme Shelter” vocal made famous by Clayton. As revealed in the Oscar and Grammy-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, Lisa has since emerged from her role as a backup singer to everyone from Tina Turner and Luther Vandross to Sting and Nine Inch Nails to become a star in her own right; two Grammy wins later, the New York native and her band Grand Baton have been wowing audiences around the globe with dynamic live performances that showcase her spectacular voice.
Grand Baton serves up a meaty mix of progressive rock, psychedelic soul, R&B, world rhythms and classical influences, performing originals and reinventing classics by artists from Led Zep to Little Willie John. Fischer, naturally, is in her rightful place at centre stage, demonstrating the skills honed from the time she was a student at Manhattan’s High School of Music. In anticipation of her upcoming performance at FirstOntario PAC, Fischer chatted with GoBeWeeky.com about her voice, her first time, and how that voice wound up working with Nine Inch Nails.
GoBe: You’re a natural singer by virtue of being born with that amazing voice, but even the most priceless diamond needs to be cut and polished to shine. What early lessons did you learn at the High School of Music and Art that truly helped you master that gift?
LISA: My time at Music and Art was truly a gift. The energy of being surrounded by like-minded creative spirits in search of themselves was inspiring. The guidance and experience of the teachers there was a treasure trove of information. In our voice classes we learned vocal warmups, aria’s in different languages and art songs etc. In our choral classes we learned how to blend with each other. We had ear training and musical theory classes which helped me understand the relationship between time, space, thought and sound. Every day was filled with musical wonderment and adventure.
GoBe: You’ve supported and collaborated with so many different artists performing so many different styles. Is there one genre where you feel the best vibe for you as a performer. Where do you feel most comfortable – or perhaps, most inspired – as a vocalist?
LISA: I tend to feel comfort in most genre’s because I get to live and breathe the music from my own spirit which goes beyond the mind, but I have noticed that I tend to lean towards singing mid-tempo and ballad pieces that have a story and/or melody that excites me on some deep level.
GoBe: Singing – and watching a singer – is such an intimate experience. Performing with the Stones, you’ve been part of some of the most massive touring stage productions ever produced. Is it difficult to feel connected to an audience when there’s 100,000 people out there. It’s clearly a different experience than what we’ll be seeing here in St. Catharines at the Performing Arts Centre?
LISA: For me, it feels natural to think of an audience of any size as one beautiful mind longing to connect. There is the realm of projecting energy and sound outwards to a large audience, but that for me is more about audio and visual production so that the larger audiences can combine what they hear with what they see because there’s so much space to fill. Especially in outdoor venues. In smaller spaces the vocal projection needs a different mindset and approach, but the core and purpose of the experience feels the same in a large or small setting. It’s all about connection for me, always.
GoBe: Do you recall the first time, as a young girl, you were put in the spotlight on a stage and had to perform. Was that a daunting task, or did you find it liberating?
LISA: Daunting for sure! I was young, around 17 or 18, and I was singing with DeeDee Kenniebrew who was an original member of “The Crystals”. I was comfortable singing the parts because I knew some of the music from playing my Mom and Dad’s old 45’s, but... it was my first time learning choreography, and I was terrified and awful at it. Unsure of myself, clumsy, and awkward. But Deedee had faith and allowed me time and space to grow into myself.
GoBe: I’m curious about the conversation that resulted in you touring with Nine Inch Nails. Did you need convincing? Or did you see that as just another opportunity to lend your voice to a different style?
LISA: I had heard of NIN but I wasn’t familiar with the music at the time of my phone conversation with Mr. Reznor, and he was so very kind about that. He sincerely and gently said “Listen to the music and see what you think”. And it came from such an egoless place. After he explained his vision, I spoke with Linda, my manager and got together with her to listen to NIN for the first time. To be quite honest, my mouth was wide open and all I could say was “holy sh-t”... was this the same calm cool and collected guy I was talking to over the phone? I was bathed in wild sounds and raw emotion. My interest was tweaked past 10 and I was totally “IN 2 NIN”. No convincing necessary. I couldn’t wait to see how I could be in service to the music and his vision.
GoBe: Is there an artist you’d love to work with that you haven’t yet and if so, who?
LISA: Lately, I’ve been pulled to the music of Sampha Lahai Sisay. I fell in love with a piece called “Treasure”. When I hear his voice and music, it takes me to a deep familiar place I’ve never been to before, if that makes any sense at all. I believe he is a gift to this world.
GoBe: Describe the connection you have with your own touring band, Grand Baton.
LISA: We are in such a rich and amazing place musically right now. We’ve been playing together for about five years and I wish I could put into words what we share. The best way I can try to explain it is, when we play together I feel like my heart is suspended up and outwards, my limbs have no weight, and we float together, aware and unafraid. Grand Baton is JC Maillard, Thierry Arpino and Aidan Carroll. JC is our musical director, arranger, and guitarist. He also sings and plays keyboards. Thierry plays drums and percussion. And Aidan plays electric and upright bass and sings as well.
GoBe: For your fans coming out to the Arts Centre April 25th, what can they expect from a night with Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton.
LISA: Our hope is people walk away with a feeling of joy, oneness and healing.
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